Dyslexia. Maybe you read that and think ‘can’t read’, or you might think of swimming words, or maybe you’re not even aware of what the term means. If the last one is the case, it’s Dyslexia Awareness Month, so it’s time to find out.
What is dyslexia?
It’s a neurobiological variation that affects 1 in 5 people, and it is less about not being able to recognize words on a page so much as it’s about struggling to manipulate those words. It occurs on a continuum; no two people experience dyslexia the same way, even if those people are siblings and inherited their dyslexia from a parent.
How does it happen?
Dyslexia is not a condition or a disease, but rather a case of neurodiversity. People with dyslexia tend to use the right side of their brain more than the left. The right side of the brain generally takes in and understands spatial activities, whereas the left side is in charge of language, among other things. Since a person with dyslexia relies heavily on the right side, it takes longer for the language they are trying to visually perceive to reach the left side of their brain, therefore that person will take longer to read or ‘decode’ that language.
Diversity vs Disability
People with dyslexia experience reading, writing, and learning differently than people without dyslexia. However, they are as capable of achieving goals and being as successful as anyone else – even if their immediate goals are learning how to read and write efficiently. Because most learning environments are designed with a certain learning experience in mind, a person with dyslexia may struggle in their environment, since their learning experience is different. Their success depends on being given the help, tools, and opportunity to learn in ways that support their neurodiversity rather than limit it.
JCU Lecturer Katrina Blake describes the JCU Education subject, ED4306: Teaching Students with Reading Difficulties, which focuses on ensuring that Education students understand and value teaching methods that nurture and aid students with reading difficulties. “An important component of pre-service teacher education at JCU includes specific lessons on effective reading instruction,” says Katrina. “The main focus of ED4306 is in encouraging pre-service teachers to better understand their learners’ reading abilities and interests and thereby provide access to the curriculum for students with reading difficulties.”
Learning without Limits
Students with dyslexia benefit from learning and teaching methods that account for the decoding and encoding process that most students with dyslexia use. ‘Decoding’ refers to the process of reading. People with dyslexia must often translate the letters and words they see on a page into sounds; they decode what the words say into speech they understand. Similarly, the ‘encoding’ or spelling and writing process involves turning sounds into letters and words; they are encoding words with the meaning of speech.
“ED4306 guides pre-service teachers to consider their learners, text types, and reading instruction through a balanced approach to reading instruction,” explains Katrina. “Such an approach includes the systematic attention to metacognitive processes employed by effective readers, such as phonics and phonemic awareness, vocabulary, reading comprehension and fluency, and oral language, through a blend of modelled, shared, guided, and independent reading sessions.”
Learning and teaching methods which support these processes include time for students to work through the decoding and encoding processes, or even allows varied learning options. Options that allow for both oral and aural learning can help a student greatly, since a person with dyslexia often has a high listening comprehension. Tools like text-readers or audio-recorded information can help a student with dyslexia to work through material by limiting the decoding process and engaging a different skill. Being read exam questions or being allowed to submit and present their work orally can reduce the necessity of the decoding and encoding processes while simultaneously playing to the student’s strengths.
It is important to remember that the differences in a dyslexic person’s experience of learning are just that: differences. Having dyslexia doesn’t mean having deficits. People with dyslexia have strong verbal skills that offset their written skills. Their dominant use of the right hemisphere of the brain means they think well in 3-D and physical or spatial terms. Using alternative techniques to learn strengthens their ability to creatively problem-solve, to find different strategies, and to think insightfully.
During Dyslexia Awareness Month, we should try to not only be aware of the neurodiversity that exists between all people, but also to understand those neurobiological differences and to value them for the perspectives and abilities that they bring.
If you have a passion for teaching and guiding students into their future through effective and nurturing methods, consider what you can do with JCU Education.
Feature image: Shutterstock